Cam Newton is officially a free agent. The longtime Panthers superstar becoming available might seem like less of a story after two injury-marred seasons, but he's not nearly as far removed from elite play as you might think.
Completing a career-high 67.9% of his pass attempts, Newton had been performing at a high level in 2018 before a shoulder injury held him back and eventually ended his season after 14 games.
Now reportedly healthy after a Lisfranc issue limited him to two starts in 2019, Newton will get every opportunity to re-emerge as one of the NFL's few true game-changers at the most important position. His market won't be overly competitive, as many teams already have a quarterback in place, but any club facing uncertainty at that spot should be interested.
Here's a look at five possible fits for the 2015 MVP.
The Patriots should be first in line for Newton after Tom Brady's departure. Recent reports appear to suggest the team is content moving forward with its current crop of quarterbacks after signing Brian Hoyer to join second-year signal-caller Jarrett Stidham. But that's pretty tough to believe.
As we laid out in our look at the Patriots' options, Newton is the most sensible choice for a team wanting to maintain its elite status. The club needs to upgrade the supporting cast around its future quarterback, but with his skill set, Newton is the rare passer who can make things happen even without help from receivers. If you need a refresher, Carolina's wideouts during his MVP season were Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown, and Devin Funchess.
Brady is still talented, but there was only so much a 42-year-old could do from the pocket to overcome the deficiencies of a receiving corps that couldn't consistently separate from coverage. That would be less of an issue with Newton because his rushing ability makes him an X-factor.
This Patriots team could actually put together a better formula for success than last year if it makes upgrades at the skill positions, with Josh McDaniels designing an offense around Newton's rare skill set and a tremendous defense still in place. You've got to think Bill Belichick knows that, too.
The Chargers boast one of the NFL's most talented rosters from top to bottom, and they improved further while adding Chris Harris, Linval Joseph, Trai Turner, and Bryan Bulaga this offseason. They're a quarterback (and probably a left tackle) away from Super Bowl contention.
In almost any other year, that would be a fairly substantial, and daunting, final box to check because top-tier starters don't often become available. However, everything may be working out in the Chargers' favor this offseaon, with Newton becoming a free agent so late in the process - a week after Los Angeles missed on Brady - presenting a perfect situation.
Los Angeles is reportedly moving forward with Tyrod Taylor as its starting quarterback, and presumably entertaining the idea of selecting a top passer with the No. 6 overall pick. But why not pivot to Newton and use that selection on one of the premier offensive tackles available this year?
Still young by quarterback standards, the 30-year-old wouldn't be a short-term solution for the Chargers. His presence could reshape an offense that had been trending in the wrong direction under an immobile Philip Rivers, allowing the team to enter a window of contention. The Chargers would offer the best supporting cast in Newton's career, including the Panthers team that went 15-1 en route to a Super Bowl appearance in his MVP season.
The Jaguars seem poised to begin a new era with Gardner Minshew after somehow convincing the Bears to take on Nick Foles' contract and give them a fourth-round pick. But as we know, plans in the NFL are never set in stone. Things can change quickly as better options arise.
Minshew is something of a cult hero in Jacksonville after a surprisingly successful rookie season, so bringing in a clear-cut starter to unseat him wouldn't be the most popular move. But he's a sixth-round pick who wasn't exactly spectacular in 2019 and was even briefly benched after a hot start taking over for an injured Foles. Can the Jaguars really afford to pass up the opportunity to make a major upgrade with Newton suddenly available?
Newton would be the best quarterback the Jaguars have ever fielded. Even if rebuilding the rest of the roster is now more of a long-term project than expected, getting a cornerstone talent under center is always step one. Such a player being available while not tied to draft-pick compensation - and likely willing to sign a low-risk, short-term deal - is a rare circumstance that could force the Jaguars to change course on any strategy they had for the quarterback spot even one week ago.
Miami still holds a ton of cap space following a busy start to the offseason. After most of the big-name free agents signed in the first few days, an organization seemingly set on rebuilding hasn't had many avenues to flex its financial muscle. Here's one.
The Dolphins have been positioning themselves to take a top quarterback in the 2020 draft for well over a year now. Identifying this team as a landing spot for Newton isn't necessarily making the argument Miami should throw those plans out the window. Instead, this is acknowledging that searching for a long-term answer at quarterback - and the first true franchise signal-caller since Dan Marino - should involve taking as many swings as possible. If that means signing Newton and drafting Tua Tagovailoa, so be it.
As we've seen in the past, with the Patriots' Brady-Garoppolo situation being perhaps the most relevant example, having more than one quality quarterback is an enviable position - some teams struggle to get even one. Signing Newton would theoretically allow the Dolphins to take their time developing whichever quarterback they may select in the first round (if that's Tua, such a scenario is ideal with his ongoing recovery from a major hip injury). The team would also be more competitive in 2020 and then assess where things stand at this time next year.
If the rookie doesn't show he's ready to play, Newton is a fine fallback option. And if the young passer is primed to take over, the Dolphins can begin shopping the star quarterback who has hopefully rehabbed his trade value. What's the downside?
Rumors of Washington entertaining the idea of taking Tua with the No. 2 pick will likely prove to be a calculated leak to drum up trade interest. With that floating out there, the Redskins ensure any team looking to move up for the Alabama standout must call them to get their guy, and not the Lions at No. 3.
But let's also consider the possibility there's at least some truth to the Redskins weighing their quarterback options, which certainly isn't out of the question. The new staff under former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera isn't tied to 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins, and the Ohio State product didn't do much to impress during a rocky first season.
If the Redskins wish to go in another direction, or at least provide some competition for Haskins, Newton is an obvious fit. Rivera, the head coach in Carolina for every game Newton has played, knows the star quarterback better than anyone.
Turning to Newton would give Washington a far more streamlined path to competitiveness while allowing Haskins to develop at his own pace. Eventually, if one of the two passers becomes the long-term answer at the position, the other can be traded for assets.
Rivera has already brought in several former Panthers in an effort to change a losing culture. Adding another in what would be his most significant move yet shouldn't be ruled out.